Budget edition, May 2014
SPECIAL REPORT: Budget 2014
Hockey takes axe to the social wage by MARK PHILLIPS DECLARING that Australia must become a nation of “lifters, not leaners”, Joe Hockey has handed down harsh new measures for young job seekers, cuts to pensions, new fees for visiting the doctor, and a temporary tax rise for high-income earners in his debut Budget as Federal Treasurer. The Abbott Government’s first Budget has lived up to the advance publicity as one of the toughest in living memory, with savage across-the-board cuts in pursuit of long-term savings. Taking its cue from the Commission of Audit, the Budget begins dismantling the key planks of the social wage with the introduction of a $7 fee for visits to a GP, or out-of-hospital pathology and imaging services, alongside higher co-payments for prescribed medicines, to claw back $4.7 billion over four years. Of this, $5 will go towards a new $20 billion medical research fund and $2 to the doctor or provider. The age of retirement will be lifted to 70 by 2053, while pensions will be cut over time through new indexation measures which would see the age and disability support pension $200 a fortnight less in today’s money by 2030. Young job seekers under 30 will be denied any income support for the first six months and forced onto work-for-the-dole to be eligible for Newstart or the youth allowance after six months. And if they do not find a job within that time, the merrygo-round begins again. Landmark reforms to public hospital and schools funding (the Gonski reforms) to the states will be scrapped in the pursuit of $80 billion of savings. And in a surprise measure that will take thousands of dollars out of the retirement Continued page 2
Illustration: Sam Wallman
AT A GLANCE: Hockey’s little box of horrors • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
Young unemployed without income support for six months a year 16,500 public sector jobs to go, with more through privatisation Super Guarantee increase delayed four years; frozen at 9.5% Redundancy entitlements less protected when employers go bust Cuts to indexation for many welfare payments Temporary 2% income tax levy for highest income earners Family payments cut PPL scheme survives, capped at $50,000 over six months New $7 GP payment & higher co-payment for prescription drugs Big cuts to funding to states for health and education Uni fees to rise, student loan debt to attract real interest rate A range of industry assistance programs will be cut or axed Tools for Your Trade program for apprentices abolished, new loan scheme created in its place Twice yearly fuel excise indexation will be reintroduced Company tax to be cut, MRRT and carbon price abolished Union royal commission to cost $53.3 million
Continued from page 1 savings of workers, the increase to the Superannuation Guarantee will be frozen at 9.5% until 2018. It had been due to rise to 12% by 2019. Motorists will face higher prices at petrol pumps with the reintroduction of twice-yearly indexation of the fuel excise, while 16,500 jobs will be axed from the Australian Public Service. In his Budget speech, Mr Hockey defended the spending cuts as essential to ensure the long-term strength of the government finances. “We know that for some in the community, this Budget will not be easy,” he said. “The age of entitlement is over. It has to be replaced, not with an age of austerity, but with an age of opportunity.” The government says this year’s Budget will set it on the path to a surplus of more than 1% of GDP by 2024-25. It is forecasting a deficit $49.9 billion this year, falling to $29.8 billion next year and $2.8 billion in 2017-18. Government revenue will rise by 4.5% to $391.3 billion next year, while expenditure is expected to fall by 0.2% to $414.8 billlion. Economic forecasts are for GDP growth of 3% in 2014-15 and an optimistic 4.75% in 2015-16, while unemployment will grow to 6.25% next year from 6% this year. Key Budget features include: • A wage subsidy of up to $10,000 over two years to encourage employers to give jobs to long-term unemployed workers over 50. • Capping the maximum redundancy payment under the Fair Entitlements Guarantee at 16 weeks, with long-serving workers forced to stand in the line of creditors to seek their full entitlement. • A ‘temporary budget repair levy’ of 2% for people earning over $180,000 a year to raise $3.1 billion over three years. • The removal of a cap on university fees, along with increased interest payments on student loans. • The slashing of more than $800 million in industry programs, including in the
Budget edition, May 2014
Abbott and Hockey’s lost generation ELINOR SUMMERS Job seeker, 24 “I’ve been looking for work for two months and I have multiple ongoing health problems that require a lot of medical visits and if I’m not eligible for Newstart and incapable of working what that means for my healthcare, rent and food is unthinkable. It’s a very scary time for young job seekers in Australia.” LUKE FARACI Apprentice electrician, 24 “Tony Abbott has decided to scrap the tools for trades program so instead of getting yearly payments of $1200 it’s going to be replaced with a loan scheme. The whole point of an apprenticeship is to earn while you learn and suddenly at the end of your apprenticeship you’ll have a big debt.” JENNY STRAMILOS University student, 19 “I grew up in a low socio-economic status area and I came to university straight from high school. Only five to six people from my entire year level came from high school to university. With the deregulation of fees at Australian universities those students would no longer have that option and I would not be where I am today.” automotive assistance and for renewable energy projects. • The removal of a financial incentive for apprentices, to be based with a loan scheme similar to that for university. • Twice yearly fuel excise indexation will be reintroduced, in line with inflation. The fuel excise has been frozen at 38.1 cents a litre since 2001. • The axing of 16,500 public service jobs, and a higher efficiency dividend of 2.5% a year. • The allocation of $53.3 million to the
royal commission into trade unions. Mr Hockey and Tony Abbott have begun the hard sell tonight in the face of criticism about broken promises and that the Budget has come down too heavily on those who can least afford it. ACTU President Ged Kearney said the Budget signalled the end of the fair go. “This is a savage attack on the standard of living that Australians have worked hard for,” Ms Kearney said. “The Liberal Government vision is of a harsher, less equal Australia.”
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Want to know more or get involved? Contact our newsdesk by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (03) 9664 7266. Or get in touch by Facebook (facebook.com/ThisWorkingLife) or Twitter (twitter/thisworkinglife). Editor: Mark Phillips. Responsibility for election comment is taken by Dave Oliver, Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, 365 Queen Street, Melbourne 3000.
Budget edition, May 2014
Hockey’s horrorshow will hurt battlers most
by GED KEARNEY ACTU President
NE of the true tests of a government – of its priorities, its values and even its ideology – is the Budget. A Budget is where a government gets to make its stamp on the nation, and its decisions about how to spend tens of billions of dollars tell us much about its agenda and the type of Australia it wishes to have. That is why Budgets are so important, and why the media devote so much space and energy to covering them. This is even more so when a government is new, and relatively unknown. On 13 May, Joe Hockey delivered the first Budget of the Abbott Government, and the document he released has confirmed what we already suspected: that Tony Abbott and the Coalition are no friends of working people. Before last year’s election, Tony Abbott promised to be the best friend Australian workers had ever had. He paraded around in a high-viz vest day after day to prove his credentials. But a real friend doesn’t cut hundreds of millions of dollars from industry and apprentice programs that support hundreds of thousands of decent jobs. A real friend doesn’t hit struggling families with higher medical, fuel and education costs. And a real friend doesn’t turn their back on the aged, disabled and unemployed when they need a hand to get up off their knees.
Boulevard of broken promises: Treasurer Joe Hockey and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann on Budget day. Photo: Stefan Postles/Getty Images
A real friend doesn’t hit struggling families with higher medical, fuel and education costs.
for Australian workers is now crystal clear: it’s a future for this nation built on insecure work, with people shunted through inappropriate training to unsustainable jobs until their bodies are broken at the age of 70, while hitting them with extra costs at every turn for healthcare and medicine, for education, and for petrol. Low and middle-income earners – hard working people who ask nothing more than dignity, respect and a fair go – are asked to bear the brunt of the Budget, while big business avoids its load. Everyone is being told to tighten their belts. Families will be slugged with extra costs of living, new holes are Tony Abbott has had eight months to come up with an economic plan to deliver being punched in the welfare safety net, on his election promise to create a million and thousands of jobs are being cut to fund Joe Hockey’s self-created “Budget new jobs in five years. emergency”. Instead he has flagged cutting 16,500 The age and disability support pensions public servants and has ripped hundreds will be cut over time. Access to family of millions out of skills and innovation. The Abbott Government’s prescription benefits will be tightened.
Young job seekers will be punished by having financial support with-held for six months, and then forced onto work-for-the-dole schemes to earn an already inadequate Newstart allowance. University students and apprentices will be saddled with heavy debts for their studies and training which will take years to pay off. But when Joe Hockey said “the age of entitlement is over”, he certainly wasn’t talking about his mates from the big end of town. The Government still went ahead with a $4 billion company tax cut. It did nothing to change the diesel fuel rebate that benefits the mining billionaires by millions of dollars a year. It left untouched the generous superannuation tax concessions for the wealthy, while removing the Low Income Super Contribution scheme, and freezing the increase in the Super Guarantee at 9.5% until 2018. It is not the role of government to hand big business a blank cheque in the form of a company tax cut. This Budget is a recipe for the Americanisation of Australian society, with wide disparities of inequality and Continued page 6
Budget edition, May 2014
How the Budget will affe
Pensions From 2035, the retirement age will be raised to 70. Pensions currently rise in line with wages growth but this Budget announces an end to this arrangement. Instead, from 2017, all pensions will rise only in line with the Consumer Price Index, and no longer keep pace with wage growth. ‘Pensions’ include the Age Pension, Disability Support Pension, Carer Payment and Veterans’ Affairs pensions. The ACTU projects this will mean that, in inflation-adjusted 2014 dollars, pensions will be around $200 per fortnight lower in 2030 than they would have been if the existing indexation arrangements had been retained. The number of people living in relative poverty is sure to rise as a result.
FROM young job seekers to pensioners, with students, apprentices and mature age workers in between, few Australians will not feel the effects of the Budget. Here’s a snapshot of some of the main changes and how they will affect you. reducing current workers’ retirement savings by thousands of dollars.
Entitlements less protected The previous government legislated a scheme called the Fair Entitlements Guarantee, which ensures that workers will be paid their redundancy entitlements if their employer goes out of business. This Budget puts a cap on the Older workers entitlements that workers will receive. A wage subsidy to encourage employers Rather than getting the redundancy pay to give jobs to long-term unemployed set out in a collective agreement, workers workers over 50, called Restart, will be introduced. It will be worth $10,000 over will receive only the minimum legal 24 months for a full-time hire, or pro rata redundancy entitlements in the National Employment Standards. for part-time workers. Redundancy payouts will be capped at 16 weeks’ pay, with long-serving Young jobseekers on their own workers forced to stand in the line of Unemployed people under 30 will be creditors to seek their full entitlement. completely on their own for the first The Government says this will save $87.7 six months of unemployment, with no million over four years. income support from government. With the manufacturing industry After those first six months, people will in particular facing difficulties, many have to work for the dole, a scheme that workers will be worried about receiving does not work to help people find real their entitlements if their employer goes jobs. After the six months of work for the bust. These changes announced in the dole, people will be on their own again, Budget will mean their entitlements are with no income support. less secure. There are a few exceptions from the rule, including people who have a partial Deficit levy work capacity due to disability, single There will be a small increase in the top parents, and principal carers of children. This is a breathtakingly harsh, punitive marginal tax rate. Effectively the top tax rate will rise by 2 percentage points. measure that will not help people find This rate affects income over $180,000, work. or approximately the top 3% of income Superannuation increase delayed earners. The increase to the Superannuation This ‘Temporary Budget Repair Levy’, Guarantee will be frozen for four as it’s known, will apply only from 1 years at 9.5% from July this year. The July 2014 until 30 June 2017, raising previous Labor Government had planned $600million in the coming financial year. to increase employer superannuation The levy is temporary, unlike many contributions to 12% by 2019, but of the measures that will affect low- and this will now be pushed back to 2023, middle-income earners, which will have
compounding effects over time. Family payments Family Tax Benefit Part B (FTB-B), which is paid to single-income families, will be significantly tightened. It will now only be paid to families with incomes below $100,000 per year (down from $150,000). The more serious change
Budget edition, May 2014
ect you and your family with its unpopular paid parental leave scheme. The payment will be capped at $50,000 over six months, although eligibility is not means tested. Healthcare Standard GP consultations and out-ofhospital pathology and imaging services will be subject to a new $7 co-payment. The revenue from this payment will go to a new medical research fund. People will also pay more for medicine, with the co-payment under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to rise from $36.90 to $41.90 from July 2015, on top of the normal CPI indexation in January. There will be large reductions in funding to the states for public hospitals. There will be a reduction of $1.8 billion over the next four years, but much bigger cuts after that. The cuts beyond 2017-18 will come from the Commonwealth cutting indexation on hospital funding. The change will mean around $15 billion less federal funding per year for hospitals by 2024-25.
is that FTB-B will now only be paid to parents of children younger than 6. A small payment ($750 per year) for low-income single parents with children aged between 6 and 12 will partly offset the loss of FTB-B for some families. Paid parental leave The Abbott Government will go ahead
Industry assistance A range of industry assistance programs will be cut or axed, including more than $800 million in funding to the automotive industry, and the axing of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and Carbon Capture and Storage Programme. Apprentices The Tools for Your Trade program of financial incentives to apprentices to buy their tools will be abolished, cutting $914 million from support for apprentices. It will be replaced with a loans program for apprentices, similar to higher education loans, which must be repaid.
Public sector jobs slashed In his Budget speech, Joe Hockey announced that “16 500 staff will leave over the next three years without compromising frontline services”. The absurd proposition that 16,500 workers could lose their jobs without affecting services is not substantiated by any evidence. To the contrary, vital agencies and programs will cease to operate, or have their funding cut. The Budget shows that 7 336 jobs will be cut in the coming financial year, 2014Motorists 15. The job losses – including in major Twice yearly fuel excise indexation will agencies like the ATO – will be spread be reintroduced, in line with inflation. The right across the country. $35.5 million fuel excise has been frozen at 38.1 cents a will be cut from the ABC, the Australia litre since 2001. Network will be closed, $8 million go from SBS, and CSIRO will lose a large Education number of workers, contrary to the Federal funding to the states for school Coalition’s promises in opposition. education will also be cut. Similar to the The Royal Australian Mint, Defence cut for hospital funding, the cut for school Housing Australia, and several other funding comes through a reduction in agencies will be privatised. The 16,500 indexation beyond 2017. job loss figure does not include these jobs. The change will see school funding reduced by over $5 billion per year by Company tax 2024. The government will go ahead cutting the The Budget includes big changes to company tax rate by 1.5% to 28.5% from fees for higher education. The caps on July next year, and will proceed with the university fees will be removed from repeal of the Minerals Resource Rent Tax 2016, which will mean that fees will rise. and the price on carbon. Students’ HELP (formerly known as HECS) debts will no longer just be Royal commission into trade indexed at the CPI – instead, they’ll unions rise in line with the interest rate on The Royal Commission into trade government debt, which is typically unions will cost $53.3 million over two around 6%. This means that the real financial years. The report is due by the burden of student debt will rise over time. end of 2014.
Budget edition, May 2014
How Joe Hockey concoted a Budget ‘emergency’
HIS wasn’t supposed to happen anymore. Joe Hockey has followed a classic playbook since coming to office – find a Budget black hole, blame it on your predecessors, then use this revelation to justify implementing an agenda more aggressive than you’d let on before the election. But this strategy wasn’t supposed to be possible after the Howard Government passed the Charter of Budget Honesty into law. Under the Charter, we no longer have to compare the new government’s numbers to the old government’s numbers and work out for ourselves why they don’t line up. Instead, the heads of the Treasury and the Finance Department are required to put out their own set of numbers, the Pre-Election Fiscal Outlook (PEFO), during the election campaign. This gives a neutral baseline against which we can assess the new government’s figures. PEFO is the only set of Budget forecasts
Hockey’s horrorshow will hurt battlers most Continued from page 3
huge pockets of poverty and working poor. It is the biggest attack on the social wage this country has ever seen. Tony Abbott wants to take us backwards, to force ordinary people to accept that they can no longer have the Australian way of life. Ordinary people who go to work every day in pain because they can’t afford the medical bills to see a doctor or have an operation. Ordinary people who pass like ships in the night, handing the kids over from one parent to another as mum or dad heads off to their next shift in their second – or sometimes third – casual job to make ends meet. Ordinary people who want to spend their later years enjoying the rewards of their hard working life, but now face the prospect of working until they are 70. It’s young people entering the workforce who I worry about the most. By removing the safety net
The ACTU’s economic policy officer, Matt Cowgill, explores the numbers that make up this year’s fiscal and economic forecasts.
Some commentators have quibbled with these projections, suggesting they’re implausible because they adopt the previous government’s policy of restricting real spending growth to 2% per year. This policy may well have been implausible, but PEFO didn’t hinge on it. Instead, the public servants also showed what would happen to the Budget if spending grew at its expected pace (instead of being restricted to 2% real growth) and revenue was allowed to grow. The result for the bottom line is much the same as under Labor. Both of the scenarios – the first with the previous government’s 2% spending growth cap and the second that reflects the underlying trend in spending and taxing – factor in big ticket items including DisabilityCare Australia (aka the NDIS) and the National Plan for School Improvement (aka Gonski). Despite the Charter and the neutral numbers in PEFO, Joe Hockey still
for young job seekers, the Abbott Government has effectively given the next generation a ‘sink or swim’ ultimatum with no room for failure, while simultaneously making it harder for them to gain employment or earn enough. It is setting up a generation of young job seekers to be confined to poverty with all the risks this entails for social cohesion. By scrapping apprentice tools payments and loading them with debt, making university more expensive while simultaneously dissolving universal health care and welfare safety nets we are pushing these young workers to the edge and – in some cases – over. Increasing homelessness, poverty and stress is no recipe to improving work participation.
wage. Reducing penalty rates and the minimum wage would hurt all workers – but especially young workers. Proposed amendments to the Fair Work Act would see the widespread use of Individual Flexibility Agreements, which would once again allow employers to dictate pay and conditions to workers with little regard for a collective agreement or Award. And the Productivity Commission review into the workplace system will be another Trojan horse to continue the project that began with WorkChoices. The Commission of Audit drew up the plans, and Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey’s Budget last night has laid out the wood and the nails. Together they are building a coffin for the Australian way of life. Only by standing together can we protect this way of life and continue to build a better one today, and for years to come.
that truly belong to the bureaucrats – all other documents (like the Budget) are issued by ministers. The PEFO last year didn’t contain a Budget black hole. It didn’t depict a Budget emergency. In fact, the outlook in PEFO was remarkably close to the figures in the Economic Statement issued by Chris Bowen and Penny Wong just before the election was called. The public servants in PEFO projected the Budget balance out for a decade. They found that the Budget was on track, before the election, to return to surplus in 2016-17 and keep improving from there, eventually hitting a surplus of about 1% of GDP by 2023 with net debt approaching zero.
And this is just the start because the Abbott Government also have in their sights workers’ wages and conditions. Coalition MPs and business groups are openly campaigning to abolish penalty rates and cut the minimum
Read more: workinglife.org.au
Budget edition, May 2014
played the Budget black hole card, just as Peter Costello (in 1996), Paul Keating (in 1983) and Phillip Lynch (in 1975) had done before him. The new government’s mini-Budget (MYEFO) contained dramatically bigger deficits than PEFO, with no surpluses in sight. The worsened outlook was partly due to policy decisions taken by the new government (like scrapping the carbon and mining taxes and giving a large grant to the Reserve Bank), partly due to a change in the assumptions used for projections beyond the first two years of the forward estimates, and partly due to a slightly more pessimistic economic outlook. Hockey’s first Budget confirms fiscal deficits for years to come. For now, this sea of red ink is being used as the justification for deep cuts in spending and a few unpopular revenueraising measures. But don’t be surprised
That’s the pessimistic outlook set out in this year’s Budget. For the very near term, the Budget forecasts are in line with the RBA’s latest forecasts – both expect real GDP growth of 2.75% this financial year. But the Budget is a little more pessimistic than the RBA about what will happen in 2014-15, with the RBA forecasting growth of 2.75% while the Budget forecasts only 2.5%. Recent data about the labour market has been positive. It’s always noisy, but the signs have been good – the unemployment rate has fallen, employment growth has picked up, job advertisements and vacancies have started to recover. Retail trade and housing construction have finally picked up in response to low interest rates, bringing the long-anticipated ‘rebalancing’ in economic activity away from mining activity. Despite all this, the Budget envisages unemployment rising for the next year at around the same pace that it was growing in late 2013. This is a fair bit more pessimistic about the outlook for jobs than some other recent forecasts, particularly from the OECD. The OECD’s Economic Outlook envisages 6.1% unemployment by the end of this year, but a fall next year to 5.9% by the end of 2015. The Budget concedes that its forecast for unemployment might be a bit pessimistic. In the coded language of these sorts of documents, it notes that “an improvement in job vacancies and advertisements in early 2014 indicates if, in a couple of years’ time, the Budget that there are upside risks,” meaning outlook is a lot rosier. That’s the final step that things might not turn out as bad as in the Budget black hole strategy – show envisaged. If it turns out that they’ve been that you’ve brought home the bacon too pessimistic about the economy, then and balanced the books despite your Joe Hockey will receive more tax revenue predecessors’ profligacy. and spend less on welfare payments than they’ve budgeted for. Economic forecasts may be But what if it turns out the Budget is pessimistic right? In that case, we’ll have spent this THE Australian economy is going to keep entire decade of the 2010 operating with growing at less than its trend pace for an economy smaller than its potential the next three years, with unemployment level – an ‘output gap’ in the language of rising to 6.25% by June next year and economists. We’ll have spent most of this remaining there for the following year. decade with an unemployment rate well Wages growth will remain sluggish, above 5%. That’s an intolerable situation. 2.75% this year and 3% for each of the So either the economic forecasts are next two years, and employment growth pessimistic, in which case the Budget won’t be strong enough to keep up with balance will turn out to be much better population growth. By June 2015, just than the Government is forecasting, or 60.5% of the population aged 15 and over they’re accurate or too optimistic, in will be in work, the lowest employment- which case we’ll have an intolerable to-population ratio since 2004. stagnation in economic activity.